I wasn’t an athlete growing up. Sure, I played little league baseball and soccer, but I wasn’t anybody’s first pick. Or fifth. Skiing had clicked at a young age, but we went on family trips to Badger Pass, a small hill in Yosemite, once a year.
My first sport – a sport I was passionate about and worked for – came down an unlikely path. In the form of unpaid child labor.
My dad did video production in the Silicon Valley when my sister and I were growing up – mostly filming and animating corporate video for tech clients used at trade shows. Accordingly you could find my sister or me at fairly young ages wearing full white clean suits in silicon wafer manufacturing facilities dragging coiled cables and colored lighting gels around in our free time.
One day, when I was a teenager, too young to drive, my dad woke me up early on a Sunday (early for a teenager being before 11 a.m.). He was filming for Specialized Bikes, and needed some free child labor. It meant riding a Specialized team bike with pro riders at Wilder Ranch (an amazing mountain biking spot for those who don’t know; I certainly didn’t) in Santa Cruz for a safety video. I was too stubborn to know that I wanted to go.
My sister and I dutifully pedaled between pro riders Todd Wells and Mikki Douglass, illustrating some sort of safe bicycling behavior I absolutely wasn’t paying attention to. But as the day wore on, something clicked. I kinda liked this mountain biking thing.
My dad bought a Klein Mantra – a horribly conceived but beautiful looking full suspension, and got me a Specialized hardtail with a Rockshox Quadra 21R fork – basically a suspension fork full of rubber wine corks instead of things like springs, air chambers or oil dampers.
My dad and me geared up for Northstar in the late 90s.
We started riding after school, and heading back over to Santa Cruz on the weekends. We progressed, went farther, took trips to the Northstar Mountain Bike Park, Marin, Mammoth Mountain and beyond. I biked with friends, but this was really something my dad and I shared. I don’t know how many times we pedaled up St. Josephs hill after school, or how many times he locked the keys in the car at Wilder Ranch on a Sunday trip. I ran up the trail on the one ride I wasn’t with him on when he managed to break his collarbone.
I started working at a bike shop – Summit Bicycles, walking distance from my high school. I had a sport. I was deeply involved. I poured over magazines and dreamt about the wild full suspension designs of the late 1990s. I even got a purple Trek Y-bike with a lime-green Sean Palmer edition Manitou fork – the long travel one – you know, with 80mm of trail-destroying squish.
Stephen, me, Jesse and Danny at Wilder Ranch, late 90s.
College came and I landed in a strange, flat land without hill or trail – UC Davis. But I adapted. Bought myself a Lance Armstrong fan club Trek road bike and joined the college team, piling on hundreds of miles a week in training. Training for the back of the pack, apparently.
To say I was burnt out and over the bike when I graduated would be an understatement, and moving to Truckee, a land of lakes and rivers and hiking and skiing and climbing – my bikes collected dust.
Then I met Lynn.
Lynn and me on Tahoe’s Flume Trail, 2015.
I’m not going to get all flowery and mushy here, don’t worry, but among her infinite amazing qualities was this – she reignited the spark of my long-dormant love of bikes.
Together we’ve ridden the fantastic TAMBA-built trails of South Lake Tahoe, great old and new trails around Truckee, classics like the Flume Trail and the Downieville Downhill, and traveled as far as Bend, Oregon with mountain bikes in tow.
I once got to interview a climber I really admire for Tahoe Quarterly – I talk about it here. It wasn’t his ability to climb the hardest routes that gained my admiration, however, it was the fact he’d been doing it for 40-plus years, and still genuinely enjoyed it. He credited that ability to sharing the experiences with people he cared about.
If that’s true – and after listening to him for a while I think it is – then I’m set. I’d learned it intuitively when I rode with my dad in the eucalyptus-perfumed air of Santa Cruz Mountains. I’ve learned it again with Lynn in the pine-and-sage oxygen-deficient air of the Sierra Nevada. It’s a lesson I don’t intend to forget.
A note to the bike industry, from a gear geek
I have the unique perspective, not only of 20 years around mountain biking, but of someone who ignored it for a chunk of time in the middle – a time when big wheels, dropper posts, and a lot of other innovations came to be.
For the most part, things went as they should – the radical divergent suspension designs of the 1990s were paired down and refined, giving us more travel and better travel while reducing weight and improving pedaling. VPP was just coming around again with Santa Cruz under the guidance of Gary Yokota, a friend of the shop I worked at (Crossroads Bicycles), and I’m not surprised to see its popularity and influence on other designs.
Other “innovations” I’m more dubious about, at least in timing and execution. The cool new geometry of short chainstays, long front centers, super short stems? Gary Fisher already did that, in the late 1990s. Look up the Sugar, and don’t pretend its new. Plus size tires? That happened too, albeit only on DH bikes. I’m not saying either is a bad – quite the opposite – I just don’t think it needed to take this long to get here.
All-in, however, I’m amazed at bikes today, and I’m happy to be riding my new-fangled 27.5 all mountain bike replete with dropper post. It’s pretty sweet. Now lets bring prices under control, shall we?